Enigmatic Variations at the Savoy Theatre

Eric Emmanuel Schmitt's one-act play, Enigmatic Variations, is set on a remote island off the Norwegian coast, home to the Nobel Prize-winning author Abel Znorko (beautifully played by screen actor Donald Sutherland). It begins with the arrival of a small-time journo, Erik Larsen (John Rubinstein) whose purpose is seemingly to interview Znorko about his latest book, a collection of love letters entitled 'Enigmatic Variations'.

To call Znorko misanthropic would be an understatement. Firstly, he aims a couple of shots from a high-powered rifle at Larsen, then draws him into some egotistical mind games and labels him a hack.

Znorko laughs off any attempts by his interviewer to link his latest, and most successful novel with his private life, claiming that he couldn't have written it from experience, since he has lived a loveless existence for much of his life. Larsen is not so sure, and he attempts through the earlier part of the play to winkle out the real identity of the mysterious H.M., to whom 'Enigmatic Variations' is dedicated.

Schmitt's 90-minute drama touches on some philosophical questions about the nature and purpose of love - whether it s a necessary emotion in human relationships, or little more than 'a perversion of pure sexuality' as Znorko claims rather unconvincingly.

Translated from the French by Sutherland's son Roeg, Enigmatic Variations ends up having more twists to it than a corkscrew. These range from the surprising to the frankly unbelievable. It eventually transpires Larsen has more than journalism on his mind, and the reclusive Znorko knows his visitor better than he may realise.

Nevertheless, there are enough nicely observed moments and one-liners to take the curse off whatever inadequacies the plot may have.

Director Anthony Page, employs Sutherland's natural sense of charm and comic timing to great effect. Looking every inch the distinguished writer with his grey hair and beard, the gangly Sutherland copes particularly well with both the long monologues and some of the cornier, more poetic lines.

Rubinstein, too, is on good form as Larsen, acting as a foil to Znorko's unbridled egotism and as straight man during the funnier scenes on Ming Cho's appealing beach-house set.

Enigmatic Variations often feels like one of those Ingmar Bergman films that deal with issues of the heart, albeit with more of a sense of humour. Though lightweight and unchallenging, it will doubtless appeal to fans of Sutherland.

Richard Forrest